As Dangerous As Driving Drunk
The highway is long. The scenery is boring. Suddenly, you begin yawning frequently, blinking, crossing the center line or hitting the rumble strip.
Drowsy driving, a type of distracted driving, is shockingly common. In fact, a study released in 2013 found 1 in 25 adults had fallen asleep while driving in the month before the study. And, when drowsy driving accidents occur, they’re more likely to be deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found drowsy driving resulted in more fatalities and injuries than accidents involving non-drowsy drivers.
Keys to staying safe: knowing who is at risk, recognizing the warning signs and acting quickly to address driver fatigue.
Drowsy Driving: Drivers at Risk
Some drivers are more prone to drowsy driving than others. High-risk groups include:
- Commercial drivers
- Night-shift workers
- Those with untreated sleep disorders
- Sedatives users
- Drivers who get less than six hours of sleep per night
While these groups may be most at risk for driving drowsy, anyone who drives after being awake for an extended period of time may suffer drowsy driving symptoms.
Researchers in Australia found drivers who were awake for 18 hours before getting behind the wheel drove like someone with .05 blood alcohol content. Drivers who were awake for 24 hours before getting behind the wheel drove like someone with .10 blood alcohol content. (A blood alcohol content of .08 is legally drunk.)
Drowsy Driving: Warning Signs
The good news: Drowsy driving is easy to recognize. The telltale signs include frequent blinking, yawning, missing exits, not remembering the last few miles, crossing the center line or hitting a rumble strip.
If you or the driver in your car experiences any of these symptoms, it’s time to act.
Driver Fatigue: Tips to Keep from Falling Asleep While Driving
Conventional wisdom advises rolling down a window, turning up the radio or turning up the air conditioning to help a driver stay awake. However, research shows the only safe way to overcome drowsy driving is to pull over and take a nap or switch drivers. If you frequently feel like falling asleep while driving, see your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder.
The issue of drowsy driving first gained prominence a decade ago. Little was known about the issue then. That’s changed. Some states are even posting road signs that advise drowsy drivers to pull over and rest, one more step in educating drivers to take drowsy driving seriously.
If you have travel on your horizon — a long roadtrip or even a relatively short commute — consider one more reason to turn in early: Getting a good night’s sleep is key to safe travel.